Forcing amaryllis in water and stones

HollyT(z7 NoVA)October 16, 2005

Has anyone had experience forcing amaryllis in water and stones? I've only grown them as pot plants. I hear that you have to change the water or it gets smelly. Also, do the roots grow into the water to anchor the plant, or do they have to be supported?

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I tried it last year. It looked pretty, but the water did get smelly. I had these charcoal bits that when added to the water was supposed to help, but I still wound up changing the water often. Also, I understand that bulbs grown in water do not bloom again the following year. I liked the look, but I wanted to keep my bulb for rebloom. The bulb should support itself if put in a wide enough container, I used a glass cylindrical vase.I wound up putting it in soil after all. Good Luck!

    Bookmark   October 16, 2005 at 10:30PM
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HollyT(z7 NoVA)

How did you change the water? Do the roots grow into the rocks at all, or is it just a matter of pulling out the bulb and rinsing the water? If you trimmed off the little feeder roots and just left the fat ones, would that help? I grow orchids and use the greenhouse disinfectant Physan on them---I wonder if some of that in the water would minimize the need to change it.
I work in a store that sells the vases and stones for this method, and the customers have questions that I don't know how to answer.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2005 at 8:29AM
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The roots of knight star lilies will not survive a prolonged time submersed in water.
I estimate the numerous offers of hydroculture equipment for gardener's amaryllis - all these colored vases, bell shaped bowls and other questionable devices as the attempt in order to find a market niche solely.
Thus selling the customer for stupid (as we denote this behaviour in Germany).

I cite from an article (and in mind from my numerous experiences)

Date: Saturday, 8 January 2005
Toronto Star
section M "Shopping"
by Lee Reich
Associated Press

Wrong advice about amaryllis needs debunking
Plant doesn't need drying out And don't try to grow in water

The way people grow amaryllis, one of this season's favourite plants, is based on a myth that needs to be debunked.

Okay, so you brought home your fat amaryllis bulb, or it arrived in the mail, some weeks ago. If that bulb was out of soil, it should have at least had some fleshy roots still attached. Without those roots, the flower bud seated deep within the bulb will either never appear or else make a poor showing.

An amaryllis bulb needs to be grown in potting soil, not water, as some people suggest. Their roots, in contrast to those of hyacinth, which is often grown successfully in water, need plenty of air. Amaryllis roots will rot in water. Furthermore, you'll never get your amaryllis to bloom again next year if it's growing in water and the plants are too expensive to throw away after they've bloomed, as we do with forced hyacinths.

After your amaryllis's blossoms fade, give the plant the best possible growing conditions bright light, and adequate water and fertilizer  to feed next year's blossoms. The better the growing conditions, the more leaves the plant grows, and more leaves means more flowers. For best growth, put the plant outdoors in spring to bask in the sun all summer.

Waning summer sun brings with it the Really Big Amaryllis Myth. That myth, as often recommended in gardening books and magazines, is that the bulbs need to be dried off so the leaves die down and the bulb can take a rest, a prerequisite to making flower buds. But look again: Amaryllis leaves never really totally dry up and fall off. That's because amaryllis is an vergreen plant in its native haunts.

Amaryllis does, in fact, need a change in conditions in order to make flower buds. What's needed is two months of cool temperatures, between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius.

The myth about driving the plants to leaflessness each autumn arose from commercial convenience. It's easiest to transport and sell leafless bulbs. Amaryllis tolerates, but does not need this treatment.

So, enjoy your amaryllis blossoms now, give your plants good growing conditions until next autumn, then give them a slight chill so that you can enjoy the flowers again next holiday season.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2005 at 12:43PM
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It will work, but you must change the water once a week or so, and you must plant the bulb in soil afterward and treat like any other bulb. The only benefit is that it makes an interesting centerpiece at your dinner table. You can rebloom the bulb if you move it to soil as soon as the blooming period ends. You cannot leave it in water year-round.

You will need a vase heavy enough to stop it from falling over. You can get these for about $10. C&B has a perfect vase (not sold for this purpose) out this fall for about that price. The Y shaped ones are the best. Beware the vases where you place the bulb on a flat plate-like surface above water. Plenty of places sell those as amaryllis vases and they do not work. The plant will not stand up.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2005 at 1:07PM
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HollyT(z7 NoVA)

Interesting. Do the thick roots remain viable in the water? And the thin dry ones rot if you don't remove them?

    Bookmark   October 17, 2005 at 3:55PM
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The dead roots don't rot if you change the water at the rate I've mentioned. They just sit there and don't do anything but cloud the water. If you know what you are doing, you can remove the dead parts of the roots. The bulb will be fine in water, it just won't produce any stores for future years unless you pot it in soil afterward. Just be sure to keep the water a little below the bulb so that the bulb itself does not rot.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2005 at 4:49PM
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HollyT(z7 NoVA)

OK. So am I understanding correctly that the thicker roots are still functional and are absorbing water? But they don't grow in the water--right? Only in soil? Sorry to belabor this, but there's a lot of misinformation re amaryllis. Even the experts don't agree. I read last year on the web that one amateur grower's experience was that the bulb grows no new roots until it makes leaves. He had unrooted several and said this was his experience.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2005 at 9:23PM
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Iwalani(Sunset 24/z10)

This is so much easier in person but I will try to describe my experience with amaryllis roots.

When you get the bulb you have two basic "root conditions".

Brown flat and dead. (imo)
Slightly white, slightly thick and round and slightly alive. (imo)

The brown flat dried up and 'dead' ones I now actually rip off the base of the bulb carefully. If done right (you must grasp individually at the base) its a cleaner break in my opinion. I leave the white-ish intact ones alone. These can take up some water, but I can't say I know that they continue to grow when given a chance-- I have assumed not because I've assumed that once the root is dormant and done growing that it won't start up again. I could be totally wrong on this but its what I have assumed.

The problem with doing this via the net is that ...some bulbs you might buy have only dead roots. Some have a mix. Some have some great long clusters of potentially strong white roots (I always favor these and consider the bulb healthier for it.) So I can't see what you might have or buy. Many bulbs are sold with virtually no roots or all short dead brownish flat dead roots. Try and avoid those. I think they take longer to get started growing (not necessarily blooming though.)

So when you force paperwhites in water-- before you know it, you have these attractive white roots going everywhere and coming out from the bulbs! With amaryllis... not really. I think it varies slightly with how much warmth the bulb gets but generally the roots take a lot longer to form and their speed is individual to the health of the bulb you got. So don't expect a 'show' with the roots like you would with paperwhites.

Its especially important to thoroughly anchor the bulb wherever you put it so the bloom doesn't topple it in case the roots don't form enough or aren't long enough to support the flowering stalk on store purchased bulbs.

If you have a potted bulb it has likely filled the pot with long fabulous white roots (VERY VERY long) from growing all last year(s). They easily hold themselves up. But not a new storebought bulb.

So in summary:
My personal belief is any thicker rounder whitish roots on purchased amaryllis bulbs will absorb water and are somewhat alive. I assume and personally believe they don't get longer though and new roots are sent out from the bulb for its new life at your house.

These new roots are very slow growing. So slow that in many and I personally believe most cases-- won't start or get very long until after the bulb has flowered. Many bulbs flower and definitely have not started new root growth. (especially true if kept in a cooler windowsill or cooler home.) I give my bulbs bottom heat and I feel they do much better and the roots start growing faster.

Amaryllis bulbs can be forced in water successfully. I personally don't believe in rooting any plant in water and then transferring it to soil because the roots have likely adapted to an unnatural life in water and have some significant stress changing over (if its even possible) to life in soil. I think with care it can certainly and has been done, its just not second nature.

I'm typing this half asleep, I hope this helped a little if it made any sense at all. :) Have you found the Clemson article on amaryllis yet? Its one of the better pieces of information out there. Google "Understanding and Producing Amaryllis".

There is a lot of misinformation out there. Hans here is fabulous and really knows what he is talking about (his point recently about cutting the leaves off was excellent and I couldn't agree more in my experience and THIS from someone who had read consistently to allow the leaves to die down all the way from pros and was a firm follower of that advice. This might be fine with naturalized daffodils and such but I don't think it works with potted amaryllis you specifically wish to force from my experience. [I enjoy forcing my plants because I enjoy their blooms in Jan/Feb. They otherwise grow in my climate fine and would do great on their own blooming in the summer.] I think Hans is right and the leaves start compromising the bulb after its been dormant past 'dry out the pot' stage. (Ie: more than a couple weeks.) Its an excellent and subtle point for people who like to reforce their bulbs year after year.

There are also some excellent and very experienced growers of Amaryllis here and that's what makes this website just fabulous.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2005 at 5:43AM
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HollyT(z7 NoVA)

Thanks for all the info. I read the Clemson article. I also found my copy of Veronica Read's book--she calls the fat roots "basal roots". Sounds like their main function is to anchor the bulb and provide a structure for the branching feeder roots. She doesn't address the water forcing method--probably would be appalled at that treatment of amaryllis. Nonetheless many of our customers like the dramatic look of a big amaryllis blooming in a vase of stones and water, and they don't want to bother with growing it on.
Re not cutting the leaves in the fall, those on my plants summering outside become softer, floppy and generally unsightly. I'm going to start flipping the pots over onto their side, but keeping them growing isn't an option. They have to be trimmed back before they come inside.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2005 at 7:53AM
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I've never left them in water long enough to find out of the roots will develop further in water. My method is to remove to soil after blooming, in order to preserve the bulb. All I can say in that regard is that blooming on water does not kill the live roots, but you can remove the dead ones for purposes of appearance if you want.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2005 at 11:36AM
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I've tried three times to post a message on amaryllis that grow in water but do not bloom: the message seems to disappear without a trace!
Here goes again: In mid-october I decided to force a strapping amaryllis bulb in watern in a glass vase.
it's growing splendidly -- lots of new white roots and five huge leaves -- but NO sign at all of a flower stem. Any ideas, suggestions? Thanks for your help!

    Bookmark   December 1, 2005 at 10:18AM
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I would move it to a pot and soil if you want to keep the bulb for future seasons. Otherwise, keep changing the water and wait.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2005 at 7:56PM
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I have read all the postings and there are alot of experts here! I need your advice. I want to force amaryllis bulbs to bloom in October 2009 for my wedding reception. I want to buy the bulbs now and keep it dormant until I plant it next year. Is it harmful to keep the bulbs dormant for 9 months? When should I plant the bulbs so that they will bloom in mid October?

Thanks in advance.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2008 at 9:30PM
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